Thunder at Cassino (TAHGC)

Playings; 2, 6 hours (1 German, 1 Commonwealth win)

As with many of my games I bought this because it was cheap. I am not a big fan of WWII games except the occasional ASL and the worldwide stuff. I can probably sell it on for most of what I bought it for so gave the game a whiz first. No surprise that I was not too impressed. The system is rather clever but the scenario did nothing for me.

The game simulates the 3rd battle of Cassino with an area board consisting of three different scales, the town, the hill and the off-map bits. This map is not the most successful attempt ever to integrate different ground scales on the same map; the joins are all too easy to see. My limited research (part of a History channel docu') tells me that there were 5 battles at Cassino all with the aim of breaking through and taking the pressure off Anzio (another botch up). The final breakthrough was a big all along the line thing with important French gains in the hilly bits. This again was botched as the Allies took Rome but left the German army intact. To recap we have the 3rd of 5 battles none of which were likely to win the war in a single stroke. This means not a lot of game interest unless you have some personal desire to simulate Cassino. Interestingly the game notes state that the aim of Cassino was to find a more balanced game for the Arnhem system. The smart money has it that Breakout Normandy finally found a good home for this system. From memory the Crete Vae Victis also uses a similar system as well as Turning Point Stalingrad.

From a strategic play aspect the Commonwealth gets to make the decisions. They all start off-board and can run up the mountain or push into the town and then go for the mountain. There are victory point bonuses for taking parts of the town in the 1st 4 turns but don't let that put you off, the big points are sat on top of the hill. So Jerry sets up in his choice of areas within 3 zones of the map. A pre-game bombardment then has a good chance of flattening most of those in the town. This also creates rubble that impedes tank movement but oddly does not increase the defence strength of units in rubbled areas. The Commonwealth has plenty of artillery and troops in the first few turns and Jerry is forced into fire brigade tactics. Towards the end of the game big Jerry reinforcements can take back enough of the board to win the game. This is especially true if the Commonwealth rear areas are not garrisoned, Jerry can punch through and head for the rear. There is a game extension if the game appears to be a draw. The Commonwealth then has more time but must control more victory areas. Frankly this is for the historical buff as the standard game is quite long enough.

Combat favours the dice but is easy to remember. Both sides roll 2D6, the attacker adds his best factor and the defender adds the area defence value and his worst defence factor. There are additional modifiers for more attacking units and 3 attacking units of the same organisation. Most attacks are going to be at 0 or +1, as anything less has a poor chance of success and too high a modifier will waste units that can be used later. The end differential affects the degree of loss or retreats on the defender; the attacker cannot lose from an attack except that those units are finished for the turn. A fair chunk of the counter sheet is taken up by chits for those who do not fancy the probability range of 2D6 but I took it like a man and used the dice.

The whole flow is interactive with a single area acting at a time. All or some units there can be activated to move or fire. If not all units are used you can go back to that area later. When a unit has been activated it is flipped to reveal a lower defence strength. This allows some units to push the enemy out of an area then others can move in and onwards. Movement costs are increased for entering an enemy area or moving adjacent to or into an area with an enemy machine gun unit. This makes MGs useful for slowing down advances and their firepower is handy but they are rubbish in hand to hand. Artillery units can bombard the monastery from anywhere or Castle Hill from 2 areas away, artillery in those areas has the inverse effect. Otherwise all fire is adjacent. After all units have been used or passed there is a close combat phase with units needing a 6 to kill. This involves a hard to follow pairing off and shielding of weak units. Units can gang up to increase the chance of a kill and some are better at hand to hand than others are.

The Commonwealth player starts with the initiative chit that allows 1st action in a turn as well as certain other bonuses that can only be used if the initiative is handed over to the other side. The only bonus worthy of losing the initiative is the night attack. This increases the defence strength of units by 1 but removes the penalties for moving into or adjacent to MGs, it also reduces the effect of artillery. So a player has a few bombardments while it is still light then calls in the night to run past the enemy and into hand to hand. This is good for the Commonwealth in the early game; it is banned on turn 1 and good for Jerry for that late game counterattack.

If you like plenty of thought, factor counting and interaction this is a clever system. There is plenty of choice in who to activate and what to do with the units. As a solitaire exercise or seen as recreating something significant it is pretty dull. Not unnaturally there is a strong WWI feeling here and I would be lot happier if the system was used for Verdun as it holds more interest than Cassino.